Time to Put our Money Where our Mouth is
By: State Representative Janis Ringhand
The first month of the new legislative session has come to an end and things are beginning to pick up around Madison. Committees are starting to meet, legislation is being introduced and the Governor is scheduled to give his 2013-15 state budget address on February 20.
The highlight of my week was the first official meeting of the Workforce Development Committee. Although it was just an informational hearing (no bills have been referred to our committee yet) – we were able to hear from some experts in the field that helped all of us on the committee learn about our workforce development system. By no means is it an easy system either. Currently, nine state agencies receive funding or have oversight over nearly 40 workforce development programs. Furthermore, with 92 percent of our workforce development funding coming from the federal government, our hands are often tied with how or when we use those funds.
The day after this informational meeting, I was able to sit down with several members of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board (SWWDB). These are the folks that not only operate and oversee the Job Centers in our area, but they help execute several federal workforce development programs. When the economy nosedived in 2008, nearly 25 percent of the overall layoffs in the state came from Southwest Wisconsin.
After participating in these meetings, I have to tell you, I could not be more excited about the Middle Class Jobs Now package introduced by Democrats here in the State Legislature last week. It is a good first step towards closing the skills gap, offering better job training, creating incentives to attract businesses to Wisconsin and helping keep our local businesses open and our local workers employed.
One bill that is a part of this Middle Class Jobs Now package is the “Made in America” bill. There is a growing trend of many states purchasing prefabricated bridges and building materials from China. This is unacceptable. We need to invest in our businesses here at home. This legislation requires state and local units of government to give preference to US-made products when purchasing materials.
Another bill in this package creates the Workforce Growth Skills Training Program. Essentially, this legislation would create a competitive grant program, run by the Wisconsin Technical College System, that would help local businesses and economic development organizations address their local skilled worker training needs. The grants could be used for scholarships, infrastructure construction, purchasing equipment, faculty costs, and curriculum development, just to name a few.
Like I said, these bills and the rest of the legislation in the Middle Class Jobs Now package are a good first step at getting Wisconsinites back to work, but there is even more work to do. Wisconsin currently ranks 42nd in job creation. Forbes magazine projects our state will experience the second-worst job growth through 2016. We need to do something now. The fact the State of Wisconsin only contributes 8 percent towards our overall workforce development budget is atrocious. With all of the rhetoric on both sides about investing in our economy and our local workers, I sincerely hope we start to put our money where our mouth is. We should pass a state budget that dramatically increases funding for our workforce development programs.